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India’s first magazine cover shot on Zoom

India's first magazine cover shot on Zoom

Milind Soman and wife Ankita Konwar have shot for HT Brunch on Zoom app. Its India’s first remotely shot editorial cover and the issue will be out on Sunday, 31st May 2020

Magazine shoots are usually big business. To say there’s a small army of people involved is not an exaggeration: a photographer and his crew, lightmen, studio hands, a stylist and his/her assistants, make-up and hair, and then the celebrity and his/her entourage: a small shoot would have a dozen pair of hands, while an average-sized one, would be even bigger. The times of COVID, however, throw at us odd challenges. And the Hindustan Times’ Sunday magazine, Brunch, which churns out covers on a weekly basis, faced a challenge: if we can’t shoot, how do we come out? That’s when the magazine organised India’s first-ever photoshoot shot entirely on Zoom!

Photographer Subi Samuel was roped in, who agreed to the challenge immediately. “Let me “remotely shoot” my assistant who is quarantined in his home and see how it works,” he said, adding “I want to see if Zoom is better, or FaceTime!” The cover personality, supermodel Milind Soman, was a little more wary. “Can’t you use an old picture instead?” he asked the magazine. The story was to celebrate two years of his marriage to Ankita Konwar, a former flight attendant who is 26 years his junior. It was a marriage “they” said wouldn’t last…

The photographer got on the phone with Milind and Ankita to see the house they were quarantined in. Subi Samuel was in Versova in the Mumbai suburbs, while the Soman’s were in Shivaji Park in central Mumbai.

Subi Samuel wanted to see where his shots would work. Where would he have enough light? He found that on the terrace of the Soman’s apartment, but it is on the third video call that he discovered that the early morning light–usually the best to shoot in– was not so at this particular location, the late afternoon light post 5.30 pm, just before sunset, was better. Schedules were drawn up. Stylists, make and hair was conferred upon. And on Monday, May 25, while all of Mumbai was still under lockdown, this long-distance shoot happened.

The biggest challenge for photographer Subi Samuel was not the light. Nor was it his star subjects, who were willing to go out of their way to cooperate. The challenge was to shoot and hope the network held up. For, when it didn’t, the image on Zoom that was transmitted to him, pixelated and was not usable. (See quote below.)

Milind Soman, meanwhile, says he felt disconcerted that he couldn’t see the pictures on the camera viewfinder. It reminded him of the time he started modelling 30 years ago when digital cameras were not invented yet. Milind Soman says: “Shooting on Zoom was a fun experiment for us. I am a bit of a control freak so it was disconcerting not to be able to see what Subi was shooting, reminded me of 30 years ago when we didn’t have digital, and everyone had to wait to see what the pics looked like. Subi must have had a hard time with the internet signal fluctuations and shouting click and move so that we knew what to do!”

Subi Samuel says: “Jamal Shaikh, the Editor of Brunch, and I have partnered on various ‘firsts’, like we did the first moving cover when he was the Editor of Men’s Health. When I was called to shoot with Milind and Ankita, I realised that this was going to be a very exciting and challenging opportunity as no one had done an online shoot like this for an editorial before. There were quite a few factors that had to fall into place. The resolution of the images has to be high enough to be printed for an editorial cover. Secondly, the network on the phone has to be consistent. Most importantly, the models have to be totally cooperative and willing to do the extra bit against a failing light. Till you see the final results, there is also the fear that the entire shoot may have to be scrapped. Thankfully, all these fears were just that and the shoot turned out to be fabulous with the amazingly cooperative and good looking couple.”